The Mail on Sunday
MILLIONS of visas allowing foreigners to enter Britain are being issued by an American company and a High Street travel agent rather than British diplomats.
The system – never officially announced to Parliament – means that instead of filling in a form at a British embassy and facing an interview by diplomatic staff, visa applicants are directed to commercially run ‘official’ offices around the world.
And hundreds of thousands of applicants simply fill in a form on a website run by the US company.
The two private firms are responsible for dealing with about 80 per cent of the 2.75 million visa applications every year, two million of which are successful.
A Mail on Sunday investigation has revealed that the new system – quietly introduced over the past two years – has been beset by prob- lems, including one company’s staff selling visas. Critics fear it is fuelling the numbers of people who come to Britain and overstay after their visas expire, adding to the estimated one million illegal immigrants already in the country.
And last night Opposition politicians called for a return of face-to-face interviews with British diplomats to help secure the UK’s borders against bogus applicants and potential terrorists.
The revelations will add to the discomfort felt by Gordon Brown last week when he faced criticism for making misleading statements about immigration figures.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that business people, foreign government representatives, students and tourists in 109 countries all have to apply for visas through the two firms rather than through the embassies.
The American outsourcing firm, Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), also runs an advice hotline charging large fees payable by credit card in dollars to help applicants complete visa forms, but which is described as ‘completely useless’ in a Government report.
Details of its five-year deal, or the cost to the taxpayer, have never been officially announced by the Government. But last week the firm announced a similar ten-year contract with the US State Department, worth £1.8 billion.
Virginia-based CSC has opened visa application centres in 14 countries and is running websites and call centres